Making Math Fun Again: Dead Poets Society Breathes Life into Math at Frostburg State


It can be challenging to find a compelling story about your blue chip majors like mathematics and one academic club at Frostburg State puts a face to numbers.

We tend to think of majors like mathematics in a vacuum, almost how your mother would ask, “Well, what are you going to do with an English degree?” Someone ignorant, partially incredulous. These majors are typically coupled with another major, especially for future teachers and engineers.

Mathematics faculty brought a chapter of the Dead Poets Society to Frostburg State University after hearing about it at a conference. The club shows that something as complex and difficult for most of us can be socially invigorating and inspiring. Plus, the club atmosphere is great about breaking down barriers.

As Assistant Professor of Mathematics Justin Dunmyre explains, the movie “Dead Poets Society” isn’t exclusively about poetry — it’s about finding your passion. And that’s what this club does, but with a math bent. (I still have to watch this classic, which I’m ashamed to say because I am a big Robin Williams fan.)

It was critical that this story included video storytelling to show how happy and engaging the students are with the faculty, puzzles and yes, Rock Band —a story with images showing much more than students quixotically inspecting a worksheet.

Frostburg State University Dead Poets Society Breathes Life and Fun into Mathematics
Originally Published: 02/22/2017

Frostburg State University Dead Poets Society Breathes Life and Fun into Mathematics

Oh Captain! My captain! Rise up and hear the excitement over mathematics among friends.

You can hear the laughter and debate each Monday coming from Room 247 in the Gira Center for Communications and Information Technology. That’s where a new academic club at Frostburg State University called the Dead Poets Society seeks to make math a social experience. Brain teasers, puzzles and even the video game Rock Band are all part of the equation that solves for fun.

Assistant Professor of Mathematics Dr. Justin Dunmyre says the club shares its name with the movie starring Robin Williams. Math plays a storytelling role in the movie.

The move is about celebrating one’s passion, and that’s what we’re trying to do here,” Dunmyre says.

Mathematics major Sarah Sparks of Sykesville says the club helped her feel more connected with the campus as a transfer student coming from Carroll Community College.

I really didn’t know anybody. I really didn’t have any friends. Coming to the math game nights that we were having at the time, it got me interacting with other people in my math classes and got me interacting with other people in general,” Sparks says. “I think it’s really important to kind of take a break from the math that’s stressing you out during the semester and doing math that’s just for fun.”

Mechanical engineering major Demetrick McDonald of Randallstown says the puzzles and math problems help him reset during a grinding semester.

“Doing these challenges and these brain teasers are just a way to distract my mind, but it’s a constructive distraction,” McDonald says. “It’s a distraction from everything that I am doing, but it’s constructive in the sense that I’m using my brain to still answer questions and different things, not to mention I get to sit down and have time with all my friends and hang out and crack jokes.”

Frostburg State started its own chapter in the 2016 fall semester. The initial chapter started at Berry College in Georgia. Dunmyre describes the club as an underground national movement.

The club was created as a service of the Department of Mathematics, a way for students to connect with faculty and their peers. Dunmyre attends each meeting, along with the department chair, Associate Professor Dr. Marc Michael, and Assistant Professor Dr. Sarah Dumnich.

“I found out about it at the National Meeting of Mathematicians, and it sounded like a really good way of just building a math community,” Dunmyre says.

Dead Poets Society also kills the notion that math is not solved aloud.

“The hardest problems require communication between people,” Dunmyre says. “Just getting a community together is really important.”

The puzzles and questions cater to a variety of levels and majors. One night could feature a brief worksheet of questions testing math and logic. Another night might feature matchstick puzzles or the game Knights and Knaves. When students really need a break from brain teasers, they get together to play Rock Band, a video game, one night each month.

“The idea by doing different activities is to get lots of different people interested and involved – not just people who are excited about math,” Sparks says. “It’s just another way for people to socially interact and kind of let loose in this environment where we get to interact with each other.”

The Dead Poets Society at FSU is open to any student and features a diverse mix of majors with puzzles and questions for all levels. Meetings are held at 5 p.m. each Monday in Gira Center Room 245.

For more information about the Dead Poets Society, contact Justin Dunmyre at

Situated in the mountains of Allegany County, Frostburg State University is one of the 12 institutions of the University System of Maryland. FSU is a comprehensive, residential regional university and serves as an educational and cultural center for Western Maryland. For more information, visit or Follow FSU on Twitter @frostburgstate.


More Harry Potter Magic at Frostburg State (Video)

Frostburg State University’s Children’s Literature Centre has a trifecta of major community events for children.

I’ve covered Pirate’s Ahoy in the summer, Storybook Holiday in December and in February, it’s Harry Potter Book Night.

This year was the first time I had the chance to cover the Harry Potter event and it’s taught me to really come ready to shoot out of the gate next year. Unlike the other events, Harry Potter Book Night only lasts a few hours but Everything.Is.Happening.At.Once.

So for next time, while I’ll lose some ambience behind the people being interviewed, the interviews have to be done after the event because I missed a few areas I wanted b-roll from. Still, the students do a tremendous job telling the story of Harry Potter Book Night in their own words.

The first video is a fun story on exchange student Harry Buchan playing Harry Potter. The guy is from England and is a huge fan. It doesn’t get any better than this! (Our News and Media intern Melani Finney provides the voice for my script.)

The second video tells what the night is about and what it entails through the words of graduate student Chenoa Zais from the CLC:

PennTex Closed on Sale of Hafer Chapel of the Hills Funeral Home in LaVale

ALLEGANY COUNTY, Md.—Developer PennTex Ventures is closer to starting up a long awaited retail/food strip center on land of a shuttered funeral home in LaVale.

PennTex finalized its purchase of the Hafer Chapel of the Hills Funeral Home at  1302 National Highway on Dec. 16, according to a deed filed with the Allegany County Clerk.

PennTex, through its subsidiary PTV Capital Partners LaVale Route 40, paid $700,000 and also took out a $1.76 million mortgage from First National Bank of Pennsylvania, according to the mortgage filed by the clerk’s office.

The mortgage likely signifies money being spent for improvements to the land to prep it for development. As of Feb. 21, the funeral home still stands and fencing has been going up to secure the area for pending demolition.

It’s been a long time coming just to get to this point. It’s surprising that a sign has been up for months in front of the funeral home advertising a future retail development from PennTex before a deal closed. Maybe it was a way to see if they’d get any prospects to finalize a deal, which isn’t unheard of, but still risky.

Typically what you would see is a deal set in place upon approval of plans by local government.

I last wrote a bit on this property in May 2016 before taking a break from writing on this blog and haven’t followed up since now. (Turns out no one else has either in medialand.)

No leases are popping up for the places yet, and probably won’t until the shell is completed.

—Charles Schelle


Noble Battle Fought in the Small Business Revolution

In December, the City of Frostburg’s Main Street organization FrostburgFirst received word that the city was a semi-finalist for Deluxe Corp.’s Small Business Revolution.

The city didn’t move on, but not for a lack of trying. It’s clear that the other cities had stronger media markets that would be beneficial for the firm running the contest, which included a Hulu Web series. (Winners are to be announced Thursday, Feb. 22.) Still, the Small Business Revolution feature plans to share video on Facebook and maybe even other platforms from Frostburg (as well as other cities who didn’t make it—Marietta, Ohio and Woodland Park, Colo.) during the spring or summer while they prep for filming the new season in the winning town.

On the local level, it helped businesses and organizations and FSU to work together. Heck, this helped me work with other people at FSU even more.

One item I helped with was making a video at commencement that showed the appreciation students have for our businesses. The initial announcement was poor timing for us as students were wrapping up exams and commencement was around the corner. It just forces you to be more inventive.

The reason I’m including this video isn’t about what the students are saying, but instead the packaging. I wanted this to have Frostburg First’s branding.

I received the Illustrator file logo (which was created by a FSU student!) and cleaned it up so I could split the buildings and letters into individual layers. This allowed me to bring it from Photoshop to PremierePro and do the simple motion you see in the intro.  A nice royalty free jingle rounds out the bumper to make it complete. I provided FrostburgFirst will all of the files if they wish to use it for future videos.

Storybook Holiday Creates Magic for Frostburg Business Community

The story about Frostburg State’s economic impact on the community needs to be told. It’s something that’s said in the community about how FSU benefits the community through spending, but it’s important to show that it’s not just from its employees spending money. The university has many programs it provides and produces for the community, creating sales spurred by tourism. Storybook Holiday is just one of many events that you can see how much FSU helps the area.

Originally published: 12/13/2016

When Storybook Holiday is unwrapped each December in Frostburg, it’s a gift that keeps on giving for downtown businesses.storybook

The event, coordinated by Frostburg State University’s Children’s Literature Centre, completed its 13th year where an event that inspires reading for children also inspires purchases in local shops and brings out a festive spirit from merchants to make the event successful.

“One of the biggest reasons that CLC Director Bill Bingman and I started this was to get people to come and see why we love this town so much,” said Dr. Barbara Ornstein, associate director of the Children’s Literature Centre. “It’s such a great place for kids but we wanted them to see our little shops, good places and great restaurants.”

Storybook Shopping

Main Street Books is one of the busiest businesses during the event, thanks to the literacy theme. Owner Fred Powell says children and their parents flood the store for a solid three hours, buying up children’s books during the day. The day is his second busiest Saturday of the year behind Small Business Saturday.

“This is the benchmark for the holiday season in Frostburg,” Powell said.

More than 2,000 people – about 700 children and their families – show up to the annual celebration that is tied in to a winter-themed book selected by the Children’s Literature Centre, and includes a visit and interaction with the author or illustrator. Powell credits the more than 250 student and alumni volunteers in making the event so large and successful.

“It wouldn’t have happened without all of these people to do it,” Powell added.

Ornstein and Bingman knew that part of the event’s success means getting the kids to go into the stores with their parents, so they developed a bookmark in which participating businesses give out holiday stickers to fill up the bookmark. After five stickers, children can show their bookmarks to Grammy’s Attic, Lorenzo’s Bakery and McFarland Candies to receive a free treat.

“Even if they don’t buy anything then, they go, ‘Oh, I didn’t know this existed,’” Ornstein said.

This year, 22 businesses participated as sticker stops and at least 35 businesses donated space or supplies, FrostburgFirst Main Street Manager Jessica Palumbo said.

“It brings a whole new level to the meaning of community that they’re so involved,” said Palumbo, an FSU alumnus.

Community Spirit

The day is not just about sales and exposure, as some businesses donate supplies or food or use their space to make the event successful. Armstrong Insurance Agency closes its office for the Saturday event so the building can serve as elf headquarters for the volunteers. FSU Educational Professions instructor Sarah O’Neal coordinates with local elementary schools to decorate storefronts for the season. She has decorated Main Street Books’ storefront for the last 11 years. Volunteer groups make wreaths for the city’s lamp posts, too.

“Thousands of cars drive through here each week, and what a sight to drive through and what a statement to make to have pretty much every business you see as you come through town with their windows decorated,” Palumbo said.

P.S. Hair Designs certainly makes a statement, transforming Peggy Atkinson’s salon into Santa’s House.

Atkinson works up until noon the day before the event, then takes all of her retail products off the shelves and shoves anything that looks like it belongs in a salon into her storage room. All Friday night, her family and friends transform her business into the North Pole. Outside, she has wooden panels painted like Santa’s House, swallowing her storefront.

“I never dreamed when we started this that it would be this magical,” said Atkinson, who goes by Momma Frost during Storybook Holiday. (Her son, Rick Stevenson ’04, volunteered at Storybook Holiday when he was an education major at FSU and has been involved ever since. He has portrayed Jack Frost for many years now.)

Atkinson knows she won’t make a dime on Storybook Holiday, but every smile she sees on kids’ faces is worth it.

“I don’t even do it thinking somebody will come back,” she said. “I do it because we love Storybook Holiday.”

The sparkling atmosphere of Storybook Holiday continues inside City Place, where educational professions majors make snowflakes to hang from the ceiling and other student volunteers acting as Santa’s helpers run activities. Back on Main Street, before the parade begins, students from Mountain City Center for the Arts sing holiday tunes to preview the troupe’s annual Christmastime shows.

“Everywhere you look there’s some reminder that it’s winter and the holidays are coming,” Ornstein said. “Storybook Holiday turns Frostburg into a little winter wonderland.”

Storybook Holiday sponsors also include the city of Frostburg, FrostburgFirst and PNC Bank.

Tourist Elves

The love for the holiday event is turning into a driver for tourism, too. Dorothea Lay and her daughter Toni Lay, 14, of Bethesda, drove up to Frostburg with Toni’s childhood friend Meredith Blanchard, 13, who came from Connecticut. Toni remembered how much she loved the event when they were 5 years old and invited her friend Meredith to help celebrate Toni’s 14th birthday.

“Everyone in Frostburg is so into it, which I love,” Toni said.

The girls fully embraced Storybook Holiday by dressing as elves, helping to hand out bookmarks while walking in the parade and winning the people’s choice award for their lemon bar cookies (dubbed “So a Lemon Walked Into a Bar”) in the cookie contest.

As much as Meredith and Toni enjoyed the event, they got a bigger thrill making the littler kids smile at their elf outfits.

“One little kid came up to me and asked me if I was a real elf,” Toni said. “It was fun seeing all the little kids be so excited about everything.”

It was as if they were keeping an eye on all the little ones for Santa.

“If you gave them a wink, they whispered to their parents, ‘Oh my gosh, the elves just winked at me!’” Meredith said. “It was pretty neat to see them do what I would have done when I was really little.”

Part of why Meredith and Toni could still enjoy Storybook Holiday is because the event has grown to a full-day festival that’s great for all ages. Powell is encouraged by the buy-in of everyone involved with Storybook Holiday, seeing it grow from an event attended by a hundred people to well over 2,000.

“Everybody’s been touched by some sort of success by it,” Powell said. “If nothing else, it just makes you feel good.”

For more information about the Children’s Literature Centre, call 301-687-3133 or visit

Situated in the mountains of Allegany County, Frostburg State University is one of the 12 institutions of the University System of Maryland. FSU is a comprehensive, residential regional university and serves as an educational and cultural center for Western Maryland. For more information, visit or Follow FSU on Twitter @frostburgstate.


Frostburg State University History Professor’s Book Examines Social History of Workplace Smoking

Greg Wood’s book is a fascinating look at how much smoking played a role in labor relations, especially involving unions. I interned in Erie, Pa., during my final semester of college in 2006 and never knew the history of worker’s revolts and workplace spying that led to a bargained smoke break at the former Hammermill Paper Co., plant.

Originally Published: 01/23/2017

woodDid the ability to smoke on the job serve as a barometer on labor relations in the last 100 years?

That question and others are explored by Frostburg State University associate professor of history Dr. Gregory Wood in a new book about the 20th-century tug of war between employer and smoker. “Clearing the Air: The Rise and Fall of Smoking in the Workplace” is an academic book published by Cornell University Press that examines the history of labor strife, government regulation and sentiment about smoking in the workplace in the 20th century. Wood, who is also the Honors Program director at FSU, plans on using the hardcover book as the basis of his HIST 299 Writing and Research in History course in the fall.

The reasons for writing the book run deep with Wood, who described himself as a “heavily addicted workplace smoker” in his teens and 20s.

By age 29, Wood could not touch another cigarette after a decade-plus of lighting up.

“My immune system was compromised,” said Wood, who is now 43. “I was getting really bad sinus and strep throat pretty regularly during the winter months. I really felt that it was definitely time.”

During Wood’s research, he found how much smoking was at the center of labor feuds at the former Hammermill Paper Co. plant in Erie, Pa., during the early 1900s – to the point that cigarette breaks were negotiated in exchange for wages and labor peace. He recognized those workers’ feelings well as a young smoker.

“Workplace rules that stood between me and my cigarettes were deeply resented at the time,” Wood said.

Like most smokers, Wood would have to leave his work to go smoke, experiencing withdrawals, and it eventually affected his leisure, too.

“At times, it was so bad I couldn’t sit through a movie in a movie theater. It was hard for me to go two hours without smoking,” Wood said. “I remember sitting through the movie ‘Titanic,’ which is extraordinarily long and absolutely nic-fitting.”

Wood wants readers to understand addiction as a common occurrence in workplace social history as well as to follow the rise and fall of smoking at work.

“The golden age of smoking in the workplace was very brief,” Wood said. “Probably during the 1940s, ’50s and early ’60s, but for most of the decades of the 20th century, smoking was largely prohibited and forbidden very strenuously by employers.”

Even in the early part of the 20th century, industrial employers were “vehemently anti-smoking,” including Hammermill and Ford Motor Co., Wood added. Eventually, smoking became the addiction of choice at the workplace.

“If the working class of the 19th century was drinking its way through the 19th century, workers in the 20th century would smoke their way into the new century,” Wood said.

Today in the 21st century, smoking bans and the repeal of existing bans continue to be debated in communities across the country. Similar workplace battles rage on with the advent of smokeless cigarettes and vaping.

“It struck me that nicotine has outlasted its historical source, which is tobacco,” Wood said. “Nicotine and nicotine addiction will long survive after tobacco is gone into the ashtray of history.”

“Clearing the Air” is available for purchase through Cornell University Press and online booksellers.

Wood is available for interviews about his research on smoking in the workplace, its effects on unionization, social effects of smoking bans and the role of tobacco in American life by calling 301-687-4998 or emailing

Frostburg State University’s Growing STEM Outreach a Resource for Appalachian Schools

Highlighting Frostburg State University’s role as a leader in Appalachia is a priority of our current administration. The university provides opportunities that aren’t as easily accessible to many schools in our area, to the point that schools from over an hour away will drive to FSU so students can experience college-level laboratories and equipment along with our state-of-the-art Multimedia Learning Center and Planetarium.

This is a standard release, getting an alumnus who took one of his classes on a tour as nice touch but I’m pretty happy with the photo of a demonstration by academic laboratory manager Blaire Knouse.

Originally published: 02/16/2017

Frostburg State University’s Growing STEM Outreach a Resource for Appalachian Schools

Frostburg State University is becoming a growing resource for science, technology, education and mathematics – STEM – education for public schools in Appalachia through a growing outreach program.

The program has matured over the years, originating with school visits with science experiments and portable telescopes from the FSU Planetarium. Today, students from as far as Gambrills, Md., and Aurora, W.Va., are taking field trips to FSU’s facilities for a day of engagement and inspiration in STEM fields.

During a recent visit, Mountain Ridge High School students saw how elements respond to fire and other interactions in the Bayer MaterialSciences Chemistry Laboratory. Other classes have made their own scented lotions in a laboratory and younger groups have tested the physics of flight using their own paper airplanes.

The outreach program grew from 1,300 students visiting in the 2014-2015 academic year, to 1,600 in 2015-2016 – an 18 percent increase – and is on pace to eclipse that mark this academic year, said Dr. William Seddon, FSU professor of biology and STEM outreach coordinator. The bulk of the schools visiting are from rural areas of Allegany and Garrett counties in Maryland, with the intention of expanding to more schools in West Virginia and Pennsylvania. The visit is free – all schools need to do is provide transportation and contact Seddon to schedule a field trip.

“We’re offering a free field trip and some of these schools around here don’t have a lot of resources,” Seddon said, adding the importance to provide access to higher education opportunities in rural areas.

The experiences are tailored to each grade in school, whether it’s explaining basic concepts, completing interactive experiments and demonstrations or inspiring students for potential careers and majors in STEM fields, Seddon said. Fourth through sixth grades are a critical time when students decide whether they like STEM subjects and activities and whether they will pursue that interest in school and in life.

“The idea is to get them to understand that science is fun – it certainly is interesting but it can be fun,” Seddon said.

FSU’s quality STEM facilities have equipment not found in high schools, providing students, their parents and teachers their first time being exposed to high-tech equipment.

“Some of the teachers may never have been here, so we get the teachers exposed to the university,” Seddon said. ”We have kids who are coming here who never set foot on this campus.”

David Buskirk is a fifth-grade teacher at Cash Valley Elementary School in Cumberland and recently took his students to FSU for a STEM day focusing on careers. As an alumnus who earned his bachelor’s and master’s degrees from FSU, he knows the value of FSU’s facilities and faculty. The visit helps Buskirk meet the new Next Generation Science Standards by having students do collaborative and project-based learning in FSU laboratories.

“I think it’s amazing in our small area that we have a university like Frostburg State that is easily accessible for public school teachers and students to use,” Buskirk said. “Not many communities in a rural area have an opportunity like that.”

The program extends beyond the 20 faculty and staff members shaping the experience. FSU College of Education students are also developing new lesson plans for the Natural History Museum at FSU to keep the experiences fresh, Seddon added. The Natural History Museum houses animal specimens from all over the world.

Student organizations are all helping out with the programs, too, including Student Members of the American Chemical Society, National Society for Black Engineers, TriBeta Biology Honor Society and more.

Teachers choose experiences from topics in biology, chemistry, physics and engineering, geography and earth science, mathematics and computer science/information technology. Field trips can also include touring the Natural History Museum, the state-of-the-art FSU Multimedia Learning Center and Planetarium, plus the Sustainable Energy Research Facility.

School groups interested in scheduling a STEM experience to FSU should contact Seddon at 301-687-4707 or

Situated in the mountains of Allegany County, Frostburg State University is one of the 12 institutions of the University System of Maryland. FSU is a comprehensive, residential regional university and serves as an educational and cultural center for Western Maryland. For more information, visit or Follow FSU on Twitter @frostburgstate.

FSU is committed to making all of its programs, services and activities accessible to persons with disabilities. To request accommodations through the ADA Compliance Office, call 301-687-4102 or use a Voice Relay Operator at 1-800-735-2258.